RECORD: Farrar, F. W. 1897. [Recollection of Darwin] In Men I have known. New York: Crowell, pp. 140-149. Transcribed by Christine Chua, edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Christine Chua and edited by John van Wyhe. 11.2019. RN1

NOTE: See F2055 for [Extract of a letter on classical education] In Farrar, F. W. 'General aims of the teacher. A lecture in Cambridge teachers' training Syndicate course. March 3, 1883', American Journal of Education (Hartford, Conn.) 32: 129-154 (139-40).


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With CHARLES DARWIN, one of the greatest, and certainly the most epoch-making man, of science in our age, I was chiefly acquainted by correspondence. My intimacy with several of our greatest men of science dates from Feb. 8, 1867, in which year I delivered, by request, one of the lectures before the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street. Being then a master at Harrow, I boldly chose for my subject, Some Defects in Our Public School Education. The system of spending many hours every week over Greek and Latin verse was, at that time, in full vogue in all

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schools, and I vigorously attacked it. I had founded a little Scientific or Natural History

Society among the boys at Harrow. It did excellent work, giving scope to boys who, like the late Professor F. Balfour, cared but little for the ordinary curriculum; and my efforts to stimulate an interest in botany and other branches of study and observation left a permanent impression the minds of several Harrovians. Struck with the good effect of interest in science on the intellectual development of many boys, I urged in my lecture that the very artificial drilling in Latin and Greek verse should be minimized, and entirely abandoned in the case of boys who had no sort of aptitude for it. I had known boys who, after years of training in it, only succeeded in producing at last some limping and abortive heptameter!

Sir Henry Holland was in the chair; Professor Tyndall, Mr. Spottiswoode, afterwards President of the Royal Society, and other scientific leaders were present. They hailed my lecture with the utmost warmth paid it the unusual honor of printing it, not in

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epitome, but at full length, in the Transactions, and also begged me to publish it as a separate pamphlet. I was, of course, howled at as a hopeless Philistine by all who were stereotyped in the old classical system. That is a result which invariably follows the enunciation of new truths or plans for necessary reform.

But the lecture produced a marked effect. At that time there was certainly not more than one well-known school which had a "Science Master;" now there is scarcely a school of note which has not. Then the "Latin verse" system - which for most boys was almost abysmally useless, or which, at the best, only produced very indirect results - was in all but universal practice; now it is almost entirely abandoned. This is not the only battle in my life in which outbursts of ridicule and anathema have been wholly fruitless to hinder progress in a cause which I had ventured to plead at a time when it was new and entirely unpopular. I had one reward in the lifelong pleasure of enjoying some intercourse with men who

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hailed my advocacy with the highest approval. It was in consequence of this, and events which followed, that I first received the following very interesting letter from Mr. Darwin. He wrote:

March 5, 1887. [1867]

MY DEAR SIR, - I am very much obliged to you for your kind present of your lecture. We have read it aloud with the greatest interest, and I agree to every word. I admire your candor and wonderful freedom from prejudice; for I feel an inward conviction that if I had been a great classical scholar I should never have been able to have judged fairly on the subject.

As it is, I am one of the root and branch men, and would leave classics to be learnt by those who have sufficient zeal and the high taste requisite for their appreciation. You have indeed done a great public service by speaking out so boldly. Scientific men might rail for ever, and it would only be said that they railed at what they did not understand. I was at school at Shrewsbury under a great scholar, Dr. Butler. I learnt absolutely nothing except by amusing myself by reading and experimenting in chemistry. Dr. Butler somehow found this out, and publicly sneered at me before the whole school for such gross waste of time. I remember he called me a Poco curante, which not understanding I thought was a dreadful name.

I wish you had shown in your lecture how science could practically be taught in a great school. I have often heard it objected that this could not be done, and

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I never knew what to say in answer. I heartily hope that you may live to see your zeal and labor produce good fruit; and with my best thanks, I remain, my dear sir, yours very sincerely,

CHARLES DARWIN.

It will, I think, be agreed that this letter has something of an historic interest in the annals of English education. With regard to the difficulty stated by Mr. Darwin, one may now say solvitur ambulando; for now there is no large school that does not offer its pupils the opportunity of acquiring some practical and experimental knowledge of science, whereas formerly chemistry itself used to be sweepingly described by boys under the one comprehensive designation of "Stinks." Darwin's nickname at school was "Gas." The mistake of Dr. Butler of Shrewsbury with regard to the greatest intellect which ever passed under his tuition was, of course, a vitium temporis non hominis. And I think I may add that Mr. Darwin's kind wish has been fulfilled, and that I have "lived to see the fruits of my labor."

In 1871 Mr. Darwin very kindly sent me […]

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his Descent of Man. I had sent him my Origin of Language, in which he had been greatly interested, as the following letter will show:

DOWN, BROMLEY, KENT,

November 2nd.

DEAR SIR, - As I have never studied the science of language, it may perhaps be presumptuous, but I cannot resist the pleasure of telling you what interest and pleasure I have derived from hearing read aloud your volume.

I formerly read Max Müller, and thought his theory (if it deserves to be called so) both  obscure and weak; and now, after hearing what you say, I feel sure that this is the case, and that your cause will ultimately triumph.

My indirect interest in your book has been increased from Mr. Hensleigh Wedgwood, whom you often quote, being my brother-in-law.

No one could dissent from my views on the modification of species with more courtesy than you do. But from the tenor of your mind I feel an entire and comfortable conviction (and which cannot possibly be disturbed), that if your studies led you to attend much to general questions in Natural History, you would come to the same conclusions that I have done.

Have you ever read Huxley's little book of Six Lectures? I would gladly send you a copy if you think you would read it. Considering what geology teaches us, the argument for the supposed immutability of specific types seems

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to me much the same as if, in a nation which had no old writings, some wise old savage was to say that his language had never changed; but my metaphor is too long to fill up.

Pray, believe me, dear sir, yours very sincerely obliged,

CH. DARWIN.

Acknowledging his gift of the Descent of Man, I said that one insuperable difficulty in the acceptance of his theories was, that from all I had ever read about anthropology, and from all my studies in comparative philology, it seemed to me indisputable that different germs of language and different types of race were traceable from the farthest prehistoric days. The argument has, since then, been indefinitely strengthened by the discovery of the earliest known skulls and remains of primeval races, which show that, even in those immeasurably distant days, there were higher and lower types of humanity. Mr. Darwin admitted the fact, but made this very striking answer: "You are arguing from the last page of a volume of many thousands of pages'' I only actually met Mr. Darwin once, at

[…]

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the house of his son-in-law, my old friend, Mr. R. B. Litchfield. I was deeply struck by his sweet and simple dignity. It exactly corresponded with the estimate of his character which I had formed from the noble patience and reticence with which he had borne the savage and tumultuous attacks of hosts of ecclesiastical enemies. They had no terms of reprehension sufficiently strong for him; and their favorite witticism (?) was that he had not proved the development of the ape into a man, but had exemplified the degeneracy of man into the ape! When Darwin died, I happened to see Professor Huxley and Mr. W. Spottiswoode in deep and earnest conversation at the Athenaeum.

I asked them why no memorial had been sent to the Dean of Westminster, requesting that one who had been an honor to his age should be buried in the great historic Abbey.

"There is nothing which we should like so much," said Professor Huxley. "Nothing would be more fitting; it is the subject on which we were talking. But we did not

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mean to make the request, for we felt sure it would be refused.

"I replied, with a smile," that we clergy were not all so bigoted as he supposed;" and that, though I had no authority to answer for the Dean, I felt no doubt that, if a memorial were sent to him, the permission would be accorded. I said that I would consult the Dean, and let them know at once.

Leave was given. I was asked to be one of the pall-bearers, with nine men of much greater distinction Sir J. Lubbock, Professor Huxley, Mr. J. R. Lowell, Mr. A. R. Wallace, the Dukes of Devonshire and Argyll, the late Earl of Derby, Sir J. Hooker, and Mr. W. Spottiswoode; and on the Sunday evening I preached at the Nave Service the funeral sermon of the great author of "the Darwinian hypothesis."

Ecclesiasticism was offended; but if what God requires of us is "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with him," I would rather take my chance in the future life with such a man as Charles Darwin, than with many thousands who, saying, "Lord,

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Lord," and wearing the broadest of phylacteries, show very faint conceptions of honor,

kindness, or the love of truth, and exhibit an attitude of absolute antithesis to the most

elementary Christian virtues.

 


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